NAPA, Calif. (AP) Reggie McKenzie knew it would take some time to build the Oakland Raiders the way he wanted to after being hired as general manager in January 2012.
McKenzie has endured 37 losses in his first three seasons as he tore down the roster, got the salary cap in order and began building the team back up through the draft.
With a quarterback in place with second-year player Derek Carr, other promising youngsters surrounding him such as pass rusher Khalil Mack, and a handful of key veterans sprinkled throughout the roster, McKenzie feels he could finally have a team ready to compete after years of losing.
“I knew I had to take some lumps,” McKenzie said Monday. “To see it come like the way I had planned it from building the roster and getting the team together, it’s the best I’ve felt going into Napa and training camp since I’ve been here. I’m anxiously waiting for preseason games now. I want to see how they jell and come together. I feel pretty good about this team. Really good.”
There wasn’t much to feel good about those first three years as the Raiders allowed the most points in the NFL and lost the second-most games while cycling through two coaches, five starting quarterbacks and 135 players. Yes, a lengthy rebuilding process.
Only five players McKenzie inherited have remained on the team throughout his tenure as he has tried to build the roster his way in hopes of ending a 12-year playoff drought that began in the final years under late owner Al Davis. McKenzie said the difference between this year’s team and the previous three versions is “obvious.”
“I think we’re big and strong. I think we’re fast,” he said. “I like the way the players are responding to the coaches, the energy is off the chain. I think it’s looking the way I like it to look.”
The building blocks really began being put in place last offseason. Oakland drafted Mack, Carr, starting left guardGabe Jackson, cornerbacks TJ Carrie and Keith McGill, and defensive tackle Justin Ellis to provide a young core for the franchise.
McKenzie hopes the additions of rookies such as receiver Amari Cooper, defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr., and tight end Clive Walford will give the Raiders depth that has been lacking in recent years.
“It’s going to be a competitive camp, I mean every position,” McKenzie said. “It’s going to bring out the best in each and every one of them. Every time you look over your shoulder and think, `I’d better step up my game.’ It’s going to call for better and more competitive practices. I’m excited to see every practice, really, until we get to these preseason games.”
The biggest questions on the roster this summer are on the right side of the offensive line and the cornerbacks. After bringing in a new pair of veteran starters at cornerback in each of his first three seasons, McKenzie opted to give the young guys a chance this year.
Carrie, McGill and 2013 first-rounder DJ Hayden are competing for the starting spots. The trio has made a combined 15 career starts, with Hayden being a disappointment his first two years.
But the Raiders believe those players will be an upgrade over Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown.
“We’re better,” McKenzie said. “Now, what we lack is experience. We played those guys last year, they were experienced players, been there and done it. But as far as talent, we feel pretty good about our talent.”
The right side of the line is an open competition, with J’Marcus Webb getting the first look at right guard and 2013 second-round pick Menelik Watson starting at right tackle. But rookie Jon Feliciano, Khalif Barnes, Matt McCantsand Austin Howard are also in the mix.
“We’re not concerned like, `Ah shoot, we don’t have anybody,'” McKenzie said. “We’re just trying to figure out just how good they will be. We just don’t know.”
NOTES: McKenzie said there’s a chance the Raiders will pursue DT Tony McDaniel, recently released by Seattle. McDaniel played for Raiders coach Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. in Seattle. … Returner Trindon Holliday was activated off the physically unable to perform list and practiced Monday.
Updated August 3, 2015